Over this past summer my department added a regular Gadget Lab to our Summer Reading Club programming. I had the opportunity to offer Kindle Fire HDs and iPad Minis for my school-aged participants to learn to use and play with. Initially the program was offered every other week, but an advertising mistake gave me the opportunity to make it a weekly program through July. Last week when I asked the participants whether or not they’d like to continue the program beyond the end of the SRC, the answer was a resounding “Yes!” Because of their enthusiasm and interest, Gadget Lab will be on the school year line-up of programming for after-schoolers, along with Crafternoon, Crazy 8’s, and Reading Circle.
At the beginning of the summer, I can’t say I was feeling particularly prepared to offer a gadget lab for kids. I have a Kindle Touch, which is primarily for reading. There are very few apps and games for the early generations of Kindles. My department had received some Kindle Fire HDs through a grant, and there were some more Kindle Fires in another department, which I was given access to through the summer. There were also some iPad minis, which I got from another department on loan for part of the summer.
Initially, people were very excited about the iPads. I started out, however, working with the Kindles. The plan was to use the Kindles for the first month, then add the iPads to the activities in July. But here it is the last week of the SRC, and the kids have yet to want to play with the iPads. Part of the reason, I think, is that some of them have iPads at home or school. But I like to think that the biggest part of the reason is that they are really enjoying the apps that are being presented on the Kindles.
My intent for Gadget Lab was to present fun, engaging games that have educational value. I found it to be a lot easier than I’d anticipated. There are plenty of appropriate apps available for Kindles, which are very entertaining and fun, as well as educational. And what’s even better is that I’ve downloaded 150-200 apps without spending a penny doing it!
Each week I have focused on a different subject or ability, and introduced several apps/games that encourage skills in that area. Usually I only had time to introduce 3-4 games during the first 30 minutes, giving participants the opportunity to try out each one. The last 30 minutes of the program was reserved for “free play,” where the kids could play the games I’d just showed them, or any other game that was already downloaded on the devices. From week to week I usually didn’t remove any apps, just added the new ones I wanted to introduce, plus a few extras in case there would be time to show them more. The program was scheduled to last one hour, but usually there were participants, both children and parents, still in the program room at the 90 minute mark, and sometimes later.
The first program I introduced the devices and how to use them. I did an abbreviated version of the introduction each program, for the benefit of newcomers. That program I didn’t emphasize anything particularly STEAM oriented. I wanted to give the participants the chance to learn about swiping and manipulating items on the screen, so we did origami programs.
The next program I focused on two dimensional problem solving. The next program was Independence Day week, so we did fireworks apps. After that we moved on to 3 dimensional problem solving. Letter and word games are next on the schedule. Then we will move on to math and the multitude of other subjects that Kindle apps can encourage and strengthen.
Here is a list of a few of the Kindle apps that I’ve used this summer:
2 Dimensional Puzzles: Pipe Puzzle, Flow Free, Flow Free Bridges
Fireworks: Geometrics, Trigonometrics, Fireworks Arcade,
3 Dimensional Puzzles: Unlocked, Interlocked, Cubis, Monument Valley
Letter/ Word Games: Scribblenauts, Scribblenauts Remix, Crush Letters
Some games the kids enjoyed without my introducing them: Where’s My Water, Where’s My Water 2, Cut the Rope, Classic Guitar